Undeniably Emily Dickinson’s words about the Civil War are scant and relate predominantly to events directly affecting her small circle of friends and family. As Roger Lundin in The Art of Belief asserts, Dickinson was "slow to respond to this flurry of activity and never warmed to the subject of war, except when it claimed someone she knew or loved" (122). With no close male relatives involved in the war, Dickinson was not forced to confront the corporeal reality of battle. However, the lack of direct involvement does not mean she remained unaffected by the war. Like other events of her life the war had a profound impact on her consciousness and, in looking at her poetry, it becomes increasingly clear that her work cannot be divorced from the time in which she lived, nor from the events that marked the period.
Dickinson was not the only writer whose connection to the war occurred at a remove. Shira Wolosky in Emily Dickinson: A Voice of War provides an illuminating contextualization of Dickinson among her contemporaries during the war period. She reports that "only Whitman, of the northern writers, became what can be called directly involved in the war’s events. . . . Hawthorne, however, spent the decade preceding the war’s outbreak in the Liverpool consulship; on his return to the United States, he retired to New England. With the exception of one trip to Washington, undertaken for reasons of health, he had no personal exposure to actual war scenes. Emerson similarly remained in New England, with a visit to the Charleston Navy Yard as his most immediate contact with army life and Melville had, by the war’s outbreak, already commenced what one critic calls his ‘strategic withdrawal toward that custom house existence which he learned so tenaciously to lead.' One visit to the Brooklyn Naval Yard and one visit to Vienna, Virginia, to visit with a cousin constituted his direct war experiences. In comparison with other northern writers, then, Dickinson’s removal from events was, although extreme, one of degree" (33). Despite this distance, like her contemporaries, Dickinson was unmistakably and painfully aware of the Civil War and its ramifications. Her intimate awareness occurred through exposure to the numerous daily papers that the Dickinson household subscribed to, through being around her politically active family and community, and through her correspondence with T.W. Higginson and Samuel Bowles.
But just what was the effect of the war on Dickinson? What about these events inspired her to one of the most creative and prolific periods of her life? In a letter to her cousin Louise Norcross dated around the end of the war Dickinson expresses that "Sorrow seems to me more general than it did, and not the estate of a few persons, since the war began; and if the anguish of others helped with ones own now would be many medicines. ‘Tis dangerous to value for only the precious can alarm" (Johnson L298). Dickinson’s work refuses to takes sides politically. Instead, it concerns itself with the wounding of both body and spirit, nationally and individually, that both sides incurred.
Any attempt to meld scholarship into web design requires a willingness to look beyond text as a vehicle to impart information. We have not designed our site around text, instead we offer a tool that utilizes primary documents from a wide variety of sources, in order to contextualize the wounds of the Civil War on Dickinson's work. We hope that our minimal interpretations of the war wound in Dickinson's work will serve as a spring board for more individual scholarly explorations.
Our site includes an extensive library of primary sources such as numerous historical documents important to the events of the time, in addition to transciptions of poems and letters, and scanned images. On a practical level, our Library section functions as a site map. The individual sections each contain organizational bars and internal links directed back to the Library page. It is through these separate lenses of the homefront and the warfront that the connections of these documents/photographs, the Civil War, wounding and Dickinson's work come into focus.
Although "Homefront," and "Warfront" are seemingly separate areas, they intermingle on a fundamental level and any distinct separation of these areas would be arbitrary and counter to the manner in which the war affected Dickinson's poetic output. Therefore, please view them as interconnected links that wrap around each other and tie back to the body of primary documents we have gathered. If you wish to view only the primary material, we have provided a "Library" section for easy access to all documents without the filter of our text. Such, we have discovered, is the delight of the co-mingling of technology and scholarship, individual work and collaboration.